This weekend, white supremacist and tremendous asshole Richard Spencer got punched in the goddang face by an antifascist protestor in Washington, D.C. Spencer does not self-identify as a Nazi, by the way, but that’s because Nazi is a “historical term” and not reflective of his youthful and hip beliefs, like that we’re really not talking enough about killing all black people or creating a white ethnostate. And yet a question is now being asked by Twitter users and editorial boards and random passersby the nation over:
If a Nazi is in your presence, can you ever punch the Nazi in the goddang face?
The answer is simple: Of course you can.
The secret to life is that, technically, you can do anything. Really! You can punch a Nazi. You can run out into traffic. You can assemble a bookshelf, live on nothing but raw insects, move to Malaysia’s most isolated village, become a multistate bank robber. The operative word here is “can.” “Can” is not the same as “may” or “should” or “will” or “must.” “Can” means “to be able to.” And you are! You are fully capable of either joining a religious sect that requires a vow of silence or throwing a cat down a set of stairs. You can, in fact, do literally anything you want, provided that you are prepared to face the consequences, whether they be legal or metaphorical or take place in the great hereafter.
So now we know that you can, of course, punch a Nazi in the goddang face.
Yes. Yes, you should.
You should punch Nazis in the goddang face. You should do so repeatedly. If you see more Nazis, you should punch them, too. Perhaps you will get arrested, but then you will have gone to jail because you punched a Nazi in the goddang face, and others in your holding cell who are not goddang Nazis will look upon you with thinly guised admiration. You will likely be charged with assault (this is a nation of laws, after all), but then again, you will have been charged with assaulting a goddang Nazi, and it will be worth it.
Nazism is evil, a form of evil so egregious we joined with Stalinist Russia to defeat it on every hillside and in every grain elevator and rocky cave from Sicily to Stalingrad to the steps of the bunker where Adolf Hitler shot himself in the head. Nazism will broker no debate. There is no “convincing” Nazis. There is no hand to hold, no argument to share, no Twitterstorm that will make tremendous asshole Richard Spencer sit back in his stupid chair and say, “I had never considered that! I shall go and sin no more.” You will not win a “debate” with a Nazi. Genocide isn’t really something you can hash out in a panel discussion. “We should kill millions of people because they are Jewish/Roma/gay/a Jehovah’s Witness” is irrational on its face. To discuss the ideology for longer than it takes to say “that’s complete bullshit” is giving it a gift it does not deserve.
Nazism is an ideology with hate in its spine and prejudice in its veins. There is no “Nazism-lite,” no acceptable level of Nazism or white nationalism that would allow someone to be a Nazi that we could, in good conscience, allow to go unpunched.
“Violence is never the answer,” you say? Of course it is. Sometimes. My grandfather didn’t get the Nazi dress sword that’s sitting in my parents’ living room by asking nicely. He didn’t fight in a segregated unit during the Battle of the Bulge in the freezing cold so that I, his granddaughter, could say, “Maybe we should be nice to Nazis.” The people who say “Violence is never the answer” are perhaps unaware of the many instances in which violence — bloody and horrific violence — saved countless lives. Jewish prisoners murdered SS guards on the grounds of the concentration camps that those guards had constructed to kill them en masse. Violence is never the answer only for people for whom individuals advocating the genocide of other groups is more of a mild concern (on par with “but what if Chipotle is closed?”) and less of an ongoing threat.
A pro-Nazi-punching stance will not lead to people punching members of other groups because, quite simply, they are not Nazis. They are whatever random group you are coming up with to make yourself feel better about your recently acquired vow of nonviolence. And your decision to not punch Nazis will not make them like you. Your desire to “understand” Nazis by writing a fancy article about their fancy haircuts and waistcoats will not make them less committed to murder. The last time someone tried to be nice to Nazis, Nazi Germany wound up invading Czechoslovakia. Let’s not try it again.
Seventy-two years ago, we punched enough Nazis in their stupid faces to win a world war. This is a tradition, one that we should maintain with pride. “But if you punch a Nazi, don’t you become more like them?” No. You become the person who punched a Nazi in the face. And you did the right thing.